Monday, April 6

Transforming Borneo

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So near and yet so far.

SINCE August last year, there has been much interest shown by Malaysians in Sarawak and, I should imagine, in Sabah too, in the Indonesian government’s decision to relocate the Republic’s capital city from Java to Borneo.

The point of interest is about another capital city in Borneo in addition to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Negara Brunei Darussalam.

A source says this will be the administrative capital of Indonesia, leaving Jakarta as the economic and cultural capital intact.

In that sense, Indonesian leaders are being farsighted in their choice of the siting of that capital.

Geographically, East Kalimantan is central to most of the many islands. Across the Strait of Makassar, there is a large elongated island of Sulawesi; behind it, the group of former Spice Islands of Ambon, Ternate, Halmahera, and farther west Papua New Guinea.

Within Kalimantan itself there are already four other regions besides Kaltim with ample natural resources available for development. El-dorado!

That part of Borneo is not within the Ring of Fire and as such can safely be said to be free from large scale natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions – or so we all hope!

Jakarta, with its more than 10 million people, is overcrowded and congested. It is slowly sinking, prone to floods “due to subsidence caused by millions of residents using up ground water” (Reuters – Aug 27).

These are some of the reasons that we know for the move to Kalimantan.

In fact, the search for a new capital for Indonesia is not new. I heard something about this need for a new capital from an Indonesian official whom I met during the Asean Conference and Workshop on Land Settlement held in Solo, Surakarta, in 1979. When it was decided to hold the workshop in Samarinda, I took the opportunity to put my name for the meeting in East Kalimantan.

On the flight from Banjarmasin to Samarinda, our plane must have flown over the general area where the new Indonesian capital city will be built on a 250,000 ha of land between the districts of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara.

Even towards the end of the Dutch rule, there was already established a transmigration programme – the transfer of people from heavily populated areas in Java and Sumatera to other less populated areas in the Republic. Kalimantan in Borneo was one of the destinations.

It appears that the siting of the new capital fits in well with the scheme of things. In that sense, the Indonesian leaders are smart. What cannot be achieved by planned mass transmigration of people can be done bit by bit by building a new capital city in a sparsely populated territory like East Kalimantan as a catalyst.

The whole of the Indonesian Borneo consists of five regions or provinces with a total population of only 16 million out of 262 million nationwide.

It may be only the administrative centre, nevertheless, it will be the nerve and the brain of the Republic for a long time to come.

As it will be in Borneo and as East Kalimantan (Kaltim) shares the border with Sarawak, a state in the Federation of Malaysia, is it any wonder why Sarawakians are wondering what the prospects will be for them in terms of job and commercial opportunities.

Journalists from Sarawak’s newspapers went over last year to talk to the locals but they did not have enough time to talk to many Dayaks in East Kalimantan. We don’t know what their take is on the new capital. The Dayaks there may be a minority but they form a big minority in terms of the Indonesian population in Kalimantan.

Sitting on a vast area of prime jungle, home of the orang-utans and other exotic species of flora and fauna, it is the environmentalists who are concerned with the impact on the habitat of the wildlife and the forests. Their concern, however, has been addressed somewhat by the assurance by local officials that the city will be a forest city, meaning no protected forests would be ‘touched’. Environmentalists in the Project Heart of Borneo would be happy to be assured that forest conservation would a major factor to be considered by the developers of the capital. We haven’t heard from the Yayasan WWF Indonesia. We shall see.

Great potential for tourism and trade between the two countries is an understatement. Sarawak hopes to sell more of our excess electricity to Kalimantan if the Indonesians themselves have run out of rivers to dam for hydropower supply. What else can we sell across the border?

In general, the potentials in many aspects of life would be tremendous for the Indonesian people in Kalimantan.

Hopefully, the Malaysians in Sarawak and Sabah will be able to take advantage of the land connection for opportunities in trade and cultural exchanges.

Journalists from The Borneo Post and Utusan Borneo went to Samarinda to find out views of the local people as to the possible impact on their lives as a result of the influx of new neighbours. It is estimated that by 2024 some 1.2 million civil servants will have arrived from other parts of Indonesia to East Kalimantan to work and possibly live there after their retirement.

As a new capital city, it will have all the necessary supporting facilities that enable government institutions to function properly.

In addition, there will be located the embassies and missions of all the countries which recognise Indonesia. Their consulates may remain in Jakarta if this city is retained as the capital of commerce and culture.

In the long run, what impact will the siting of the new capital on the peoples including the Dayaks of Kalimantan in terms of their economic welfare? I’m sure the planners of the relocation of the capital had taken into consideration the welfare of the indigenous peoples in the interior. As I see it, it is for these peoples themselves to make hay while the sun shines or to allow themselves to miss the bis (bus).

There will be plenty of jobs of various categories for them especially during the construction period and small-scale trading activities in food production and catering will be brisk. The local economy will get a real boost.

If enough funds are available, the Indonesians have the chance to develop the suburbs of their new capital into 21st century technology parks. There must many such futuristic projects up the sleeves of the Indonesian planners – a Silicon Valley of the Forest, etc.

That part of the island of Borneo will see transformation in road connection. I hear that plans are being mooted to get the whole of Borneo connected by a road system. I can’t wait to drive on one of those roads. Imagine driving all the way to Samarinda or Banjarmasin and back.

Hopefully, the Dayaks in Kalimantan, especially those in Kaltim, will play an appropriate role in this transformation of Borneo and enjoy a piece of the pie. They may be a minority in terms of the whole population but they are a big minority, according to an Indonesian friends whom I met at the Kuching terminal over the weekend.

Before they boarded the bus bound for Pontianak, I asked them if the name of their new capital had been decided. They smiled and half-jokingly, I suggested a name: Kota Bornesia!

They smiled and waved, ‘Bye.’

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